Betrayal in the Family Drug Business: The Lorenzanas in Guatemala

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Loyalty is one of the strengths of family drug trafficking clans. But the Lorenzanas in Guatemala are the exception. The children of Waldemar Lorenzana Lima deceived “the Patriarch,” who has responded by betraying them in a US court.

Eliu, Waldemar, and Haroldo Lorenzana Cordon broke a cardinal rule in the drug trafficking world: they betrayed their own father. It happened almost 15 years ago when they believed themselves to be untouchable, and when they were a Guatemalan branch of the bridge for cocaine being shipped by the Cali Cartel in Colombia to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico. But sat in a US federal court years later, the gray-haired Waldemar Lorenzana, alias “the Patriarch,” paid them back for their treachery.

Shortly after being extradited to the United States in March 2014 and one month after turning 75, Lorenzana Lima first pleaded “not guilty.” A March 10, 2009 accusation linked him to the transfer of cocaine in 1996 from Colombia to Mexico, via El Salvador and Guatemala. He had decided not to collaborate with the US justice system, despite facing a prison term that could be as little as 10 years and as much as a life sentence.

This article originally appeared in Plaza Publica and was translated and edited for clarification with permission. See Spanish original here.

But in July 2014, everything changed. As part of his right to defend himself, Lorenzana Lima had in his hands the testimonies of three subjects identified only as Witness One, Witness Two, and Witness Three. The Department of Justice described them in this fashion: Witness One was the link in the drug supply chain for the Lorenzanas; Witness Three grew up with the Lorenzana Cordon brothers, and was the right-hand man for the family’s principal cocaine supplier; Witness Two also grew up with the Lorenzana Cordon brothers.

The three witnesses testified when they were in a US prison on drug trafficking charges. Witnesses Two and Three also told how Lorenzana Lima’s children trafficked drugs with the support of their father, and how they lied to their father in order to avoid paying a higher commission for drug shipments they received on their properties, which they had inherited from the Patriarch himself.

Eliu has been captured and has a pending extradition request, while  Waldemar was extradited in November 2014. Haroldo is a fugitive from justice, in addition to Lorenzana Lima’s other children, Ovaldino and Marta Julia, whom the US Treasury Department linked to their father’s drug trafficking network in November 2012. 

SEE ALSO:Coverage of the Lorenzanas

On August 18, 2014, Lorenzana Lima pleaded “guilty” and passed off the majority of the responsibility for the smuggling of drugs to his children, according to court document 03-cr-331. This plea change meant Lorenzana Lima’s children were facing even greater legal problems, but it hadn’t resolved anything for him. To the contrary, it risked Lorenzana Lima’s chances of receiving a reduced prison sentence, which according to the law would be a minimum of five years and a maximum of forty.

Lorenzana Lima’s defense lawyers, Joaquin Perez and Eduardo Balazero, explained in court that their client “wanted to plead guilty” and that he would “sign whatever is needed” because he knew it was to his benefit. But the judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, didn’t understand how the accused admitted to being part of a chain that conspired to traffic cocaine from Colombia to Mexico that was later smuggled into the United States, and gave away his sons in the process, but denied knowing that his children were using his properties to move drugs. It didn’t make sense.

But Lorenzana Lima insisted on not accepting anyone else’s blame, even it was that of his own children.

But Lorenzana Lima insisted on not accepting anyone else’s blame, even that of his own children. It seemed he had decided that if he had to go down, he would take his family with him. In order to go along with the conditions of the guilty plea and opt for a reduced sentenced, Lorenzana Lima gave up. He  admitted that he was a part of the drug trafficking conspiracy once he understood that this didn’t imply he knew the details of the operations.

The US Department of Justice requested the court to consider an increased punishment “if the defendant [Lorenzana Lima] was an organizer or leader of a criminal activity that involved five or more participants or was heavily involved in some other fashion,” and “if he had the power to make decisions, control and authorize other individuals, recruited accomplices, and (among other criteria) collect a majority of the illicit earnings.” All characteristics that Witnesses One, Two, and Three had described in detail. According to court document 538 from February 15, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) requested the judge to consider a prison sentence of between 27 and 33 years for Lorenzana Lima. The court set the trial date for March 24.

One month before Lorenzana Lima’s trial, the Patriarch caught a big break: the judge announced it was necessary to determine if the accused was mentally competent to understand the drug trafficking charges against him, and suspended the March trial indefinitely. On February 26, the court ordered Lorenzana Lima be transferred to a medium-security correctional institution in Butner, North Carolina, where he was evaluated.

The specialist in charge of the evaluation reportedly handed in the evaluation report on April 17, and the judge has ordered that the diagnosis remain sealed until both sides discuss it in court on an undetermined date. The result will determine if the judge sets a new trial date, or if Lorenzana Lima receives special treatment due to his illness.

Like Father, Like Son

There was a time when Haroldo, Eliu, and Waldemar Lorenzana Cordon wanted to be like their father. According to the witnesses, Lorenzana Lima did not hide from his children how he made a living. In fact, the DOJ reported that Lorenzana Lima “introduced his children into the ‘family business.’”

Witness One affirmed that between 1989 and 1990, Lorenzana Lima and Arnoldo Vargas Estrada (mayor of the eastern city of Zacapa at the time) received between five and six airplanes carrying nearly one ton of cocaine. The witness was a farmer that rented his land out for the landings, according to a court file, until Vargas was captured in 1990 and extradited to the US in 1992.

SEE ALSO:Guatemala News and Profiles

By then, the witness had spent almost five years trafficking cocaine with Lorenzana Lima, while his children watched. One of Lorenzana Lima’s children, Haroldo, liked what he was seeing. In the mid-1990s, he told Witness One that he wanted to work with him. “Haroldo told him (Witness One) that he saw his father’s success in drug trafficking and that he wanted to get involved,” court document 538 reads. But Haroldo would not became involved until 1998. 

Witness One said that in 1990 Lorenzana Lima saved his life. In August of that year, a Colombian contact was murdered in Guatemala. The witness was responsible for the protection of the murdered Colombian, whose associates in Colombia blamed him for the murder. However, Lorenzana Lima interceded on behalf of the witness, and he managed to not only save the witness, but also persuade the Colombians to request that they be partners with the witness. The witness felt in debt to Lorenzana Lima and began to traffic with him. That is why the witness acted prudently.

By 1999, Haroldo was heavily involved in the drug business. Witness Three served as Haroldo’s watchman when he received drug shipment, but the witness ended up becoming the family’s accountant. Despite his best efforts, Haroldo was unable to reach the same drug trafficking status as his father. First his brother, Eliu, surpassed him. Between 2000 and 2001, while at a farmhouse in Izabal, Haroldo told Witness One that Eliu was the cocaine supplier for the entire family. Witness Two was the purchaser of the family’s cocaine. 

With Old Age Comes Certain Kinds of Wisdom

Haroldo was not satisfied playing a secondary role and in 2001 he wanted to travel to Colombia to negotiate directly with the Colombian providers. But his father stopped him. Lorenzana Lima asked Witness One to talk with Haroldo, and persuade him to not make the trip. Lorenzana Lima “said that in Guatemala he had power to deal with authorities, but in Colombia he had no way of helping him [if problems arose],” Witness One said (who would not see Lorenzana Lima after 2001).

Lorenzana Lima knew that the family should not do business outside of Guatemala. According to Witness Three, in 1999 Lorenzana Lima paid between $40,000 and $50,000 in bribes to authorities to get his son Eliu out of prison, who had been captured with a shipment of illegal firearms. “[Lorenzana Lima] employed an army captain in order to ‘demonstrate that he had a certain level of security’ and protect the cocaine shipments,” according to a court document. In addition, “he frequently had members of his organization pay authorities in the area to protect the cocaine.”

The bribes and the complicity of the authorities was nothing new. Between 1994 and 1995 and later on, military officials offered Lorenzana Lima and his network information so that they could avoid detection from authorities, according to evidence the DOJ says to have in its possession.

 

“My children didn’t need to ask my permission or have my authorization [for anything],” Lorenzana Lima said. “I didn’t know what they were doing. I am pleading guilty because what is done can’t be undone”  


Witness Two had heard Haroldo and Eliu brag about having local police “in their pocket”, although this was due to the influence of their father. They even said police agents looked after some shipments. They also boasted of their friendship with a major in the police force that Witness Two met at a meeting on one of Lorenzana Lima’s ranches, in which Haroldo was present.

In 2002, Lorenzana Lima decided to not negotiate with the Colombians, according to Witness Two. He preferred working with intermediaries such as Witness Two, who oversaw a trafficking network between Colombian and Mexico, via Guatemala. Witness Two worked with Lorenzana Lima from 1995 until 2003, the last time he saw him.

In 2003, under his father’s watch, Haroldo received drug shipments smuggled via airplane. Eliu received shipments sent to Guatemala via Pacific sea routes, although Witness Two says Lorenzana Lima delegated this responsibility to him. Waldemar Jr. was in charge of storing , dividing and counting the drugs in “La Finquita,” a property given to him by his father. According to US authorities, Lorenzana Lima owned various storehouses that he gave to his children, and he decided which son would be in charge certain cocaine shipments.

The landing of the planes and the storing of the drugs transited by air or sea occurred on three properties in Zacapa: “El Llano (or “The Llanos”), “La Calera,” and Las Cañas.” Las Cañas, which Lorenzana Lima had given to his son Waldemar Jr., contained landing strip. They sold the portion of the property with the landing strip to “individuals associated with Coca Coca bottling company,” according to Witness Two. Nevertheless, the witness revealed that “the Lorenzanas continued using the track to land cocaine-laden planes without the new owners finding out.” They knew that the Lorenzanas were using the landing pad, but they didn’t know for what purpose.

Power Controlled Remotely

Lorenzana Lima gave orders, but he believed in delegating work and the risk involved with it. Witness Two declared that Lorenzana Lima decided which landing strip would be used, based on the proximity of security forces to his properties. He also decided the landing schedule and any changes that had to be made at the last minute in order to avoid detection by authorities. “If there was something that needed to be worked out with the authorities, he would say, ‘leave it to me,’” Witness Two said.

Lorenzana Lima made sure to be absent at all the drug shipment hand-offs, but he didn’t miss lunches at the house of one of his children, just after the shipments were received, according to Witness Three. This witness suspected that in these meetings Lorenzana Lima divided the money with the son who coordinated the shipment. The son was expected to hand over a quota of the earnings back to Lorenzana Lima.

The majority of the money went into the hands of Lorenzana Lima. According to a DOJ court file on Lorenzana Lima, although he delegated much of the work to his children, he took the biggest percentage of the profits.

The Children’s Deceit

When they negotiated prices for the use of the landing strips, and their transport and storage operations, Haroldo, Eliu and Waldemar Jr. almost always told Witness Two that a large portion went to their father. Since the mid-1990s, they received 25 kilos of cocaine of every shipment. When they sold the drugs to local clients, together they took in up to $150,000.

“Don’t pay us now because the old man is going to grab some of it,” the brothers told the witness.

But Haroldo and Eliu told Witness Two that their father only gave them between $15,000 and $20,000, and Lorenzana Lima kept the rest. The brothers must not have liked this arrangement because they asked Witness Two if he could pay them late, and give them the money when their father was not present.

“Don’t pay us now because the old man is going to grab some of it,” the brothers told the witness.

Witness Two said Haroldo and Eliu paid even larger quotas when their father discovered that, without his consent, his children had received cocaine shipments from the witness so that they didn’t have to pay him part of the earnings. Haroldo even told the witness to not tell his father when bigger planes than usual were going to land, because Lorenzana Lima would expect a larger commission.

In 2002, Lorenzana Lima had so much money that he asked Witness Two’s advice on how to invest it. Some of his earnings went into lime plantations, live stock, and real estate, as well as his famous melon farm. Witness Three also knew of Lorenzana Lima’s earning because he managed the accounting book that registered the amount of drugs they were selling in Guatemala. In addition, he coordinated the meetings in which the family received cocaine shipments in Zacapa and handed over the profits.

That’s why Witness Three told Lorenzana Lima that his children were tricking him. Or at least, they were trying to. Around 2000, the Lorenzana Cordon brothers asked Witness Three to sell them 100 kilos of cocaine on credit, behind their father’s back. The witness refused. He was not stupid, and he only gave out product on credit with the authorization of Witness Two. The brothers insisted three times, without any luck. The brothers were furious, and decided to make up for it by telling their father something bad about Witness Three. The result was so profound that, during a meeting in Reforma, Zacapa, partners of Lorenzana Lima heard him say he want to have Witness Three killed. After Witness Three confronted Lorenzana Lima with information from his partners that it was a trick, the Patriarch admitted that the witness was right. Lorenzana Lima wanted to kill Witness Three because he was “angry with him,” but he didn’t go through with the plan.

The DOJ says it has evidence that Lorenzana Lima, after his capture in Guatemala in April 2011, “made fruitless efforts to pay Guatemalan authorities so they would set him free.” For their part, his children Ovaldino and Marta Julia organized press conferences and complained to the Archbishop’s Office on Human Rights that their father was suffering from mistreatment and abuse. The only one who spoke up was Ovaldino, who was not yet wanted by US authorities. But in November 2011, Eliu was captured, and two years later, Waldemar Jr. would also be arrested. 

Mea Culpa, With a Catch

On August 18, 2014, Judge Kollar-Kotelly insisted on hearing Lorenzana Lima say in person that he consented to the criminal acts he had accepted in writing, and that he admitted he knew the cocaine was destined for the United States. From the beginning, Lorenzana Lima was in bad shape.

“Where were they sending the drugs? I didn’t know,” Lorenzana Lima said through an interpreter. What I… that’s why I pleaded guilty, because one of my children was working with Otto and Guillermo Herrera, and his name is Valdemar (sic).” Waldemar Jr. was the only child he mentioned by name that day, although later one of his lawyers said that his client had admitted that “members of his family” dealt with renowned drug trafficker Otto Herrera and others in Guatemala.

“I pleaded guilty because I feel guilty of this,” Lorenzana Lima expressed. “By the time I found out, everything had already happened, and the Herreras were already in prison.”

It is unclear what time frame Lorenzana Lima was referring to because Guillermo Herrera was released from prison in 2003, Otto Herrera was jailed in Mexico from 2004 to 2005, and after breaking out of prison, was recaptured and incarcerated in Colombia in June 2007. He was extradited to the United States in 2008 and released in 2013. The DOJ places Lorenzana Lima as the leader of the organization that functioned until at least November 2007. Nevertheless, his family was still operating in 2009, when the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) linked the Lorenzanas to arms trafficking operations that sent weapons from the United States to Guatemala.

The judge wanted to know if Lorenzana Lima authorized his son to act in his name to traffic cocaine. The defendant said he handed over the properties where the drug trafficking operations took place to his children because he was sick, and that in 2006 he had heart surgery.

“My children didn’t need to ask my permission or have my authorization [for anything],” Lorenzana Lima said. “I didn’t know what they were doing. I am pleading guilty because what is done can’t be undone, and the properties were in fact in my name.”

ABLORENZANA

The judge was perplexed. “You admitted to being part of the [drug] conspiracy, but later it seems you say that you handed over your property to someone else and you had nothing to do with it, and you didn’t find out about it until later. Well, which of the two things is it? What did you know about Otto Herrera and the Herrera group?” the judge insisted.

“That they were working with drugs and they sold them to the Mexicans. That’s what I knew,” a trembling Lorenzana Lima responded.

But after a pause that one of Lorenzana Lima’s lawyers requested, he added something new:

“So that’s why I am pleading guilty, you know? I knew that they were using the properties to [store] drugs. But I didn’t know anything more because I was sick for six years.” At this point he had admitted to knowing of the storing of the drugs.

“Did you know that the Mexicans were sending the drugs to the United States?” the judge continued.

“No. I didn’t know anything,” Lorenzana Lima reiterated. “The only reason I had to be suspicious was the fact that they were using dollars, you know? That is, there are only dollars… the United States uses them.”

But Lorenzana Lima could not accept some charges and not others. In the end he gave in and accepted a list of declarations that the judge read to him: that he was the owner of properties in Guatemala, that he permitted his son to use the properties, that he knew his son and the Herreras were using the property to store cocaine, that the Herreras worked with the Mexicans, and that they paid his son in dollars, which meant that the money was coming from the United States.

“Okay Mr. Waldemar Lorenzana, how do you plead with respect to conspiring to import 500 grams or more of cocaine into the United States and distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, with the intent and knowledge that it would be illegally imported into the United States?” Guilty or not guilty?” the judge asked.

“I plead guilty and I ask you all for forgiveness” Lorenzana Lima said. That was all the DOJ needed to hear.

Now, the result of the psychological evaluation will determine how much damage the testimonies of the three witnesses will have, and if the acts of betrayal will end up sinking the Lorenzanas the same way they ran their drug business: as a family.

*This article originally appeared in Plaza Publica and was translated and reproduced with permission. See Spanish original here.

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